Another Explanation for the Za’Darius Smith Trade

Smith Unveils
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za'Darius Smith (55) warms up before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we explained the Minnesota Vikings trade of Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns. That can be read here.

Fast forward a few days, from the mailbag (of fans’ questions), senior editor Craig Peters provided an explanation, too.

Another Explanation for the Za’Darius Smith Trade

Foremost, for context. Smith was traded to Cleveland for two 5th-Round picks. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah also shipped a 6th- and 7th-Rounder to the Browns along with Smith. He paired with Danielle Hunter in 2022 to formulate an impressive pass-rushing duo en route to a fancy 13-4 record. But those days are over, as the Vikings will now roll with Hunter and Marcus Davenport, a free agent from the New Orleans Saints who basically replaced Smith the moment the ex-Green Bay Packer tweeted goodbye.

Another Explanation for
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates victory at the end of the second half of the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

For the Vikings mailbag part, a fan, Andy Turton in England, asked, “My question is in regards to the Za’Darius Smith trade. For the most productive edge rusher on our team and one of the best in the conference, to only get the equivalent of a Round 5 pick for him seems very poor, with the 6th and 7th round equal to the other 5th round for us. I do think that our recent trades including the previous two drafts have all been below par. Your thoughts?”

Turton was rather underwhelmed by the trade package for Smith.

Peters from replied, “Smith willfully signed a three-year deal with the Vikings last season and changed his mind. He posted a farewell message early in the offseason, despite being under contract for two more years. So if he was going to hold out and not play, and the Vikings were going to be on the hook for his full cap hit, then that would be a detriment to the rest of the team. Who knows if he would have held out?”

The 4 Parts of
Sep 9, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Za’Darius Smith (90) reacts after sacking Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports.

“What we do know is that Adofo-Mensah managed to reach a solution that shed salary cap and gained draft flexibility with a fifth-round pick in each of the next two years. He also gave a player an opportunity to go elsewhere and found a landing spot that is in the AFC,” Peters added.

The Vikings have wrapped both arms around a ‘competitive rebuild’ philosophy, as described by Adofo-Mensah, where the club lives in the now and the future. The young executive believes ‘tanking’ is unconscionable and wants to follow up his 13-4 rookie season with a commendable second act — while maintaining future financial flexibility.

Smith Left
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

Peters concluded, “People were somewhat critical of this year’s draft, but Minnesota went in picking 23rd and started with five picks. The Vikings added one selection this year and banked another next year, so that gives Adofo-Mensah more to navigate the board with.”

So, to recap from Peters:

  • Smith signed a three-year deal and then decided it wasn’t for him.
  • The Vikings weren’t in the mood to play hardball with Smith.
  • Minnesota shed salary-cap space with the move and added draft picks.
  • Adofo-Mensah wanted to do right by the player.

Follow the money.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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